Guest column: What do pizza guy, chemistry guy and office furniture guy have in common?

By Doug Rothwell/Business Leaders for Michigan

The pizza guy, the office furniture guy, the chemistry guy ... they have more in common than you know.

The leaders of Michigan’s Domino’s Pizza, Steelcase and Dow are coming together to talk about higher education.

Their conversation is urgent and critical, because they all are challenged with finding enough people with the right skill-sets to fill the jobs they have available. Right now. And in the years ahead.
According to the Lumina Foundation, a private, independent foundation dedicated to increasing students’ access to, and success in, postsecondary education, Michigan faces a very real shortage of 1 million workers with a two-year degree or better.  

At a time when we need to grow our number of college educated workers, Michigan’s policy on higher education -- one of our state’s most valuable assets, and critical to the future of Michiganders to lead a quality life --  discourages enrollment by making it too costly for many to attend college.  

Michigan’s higher education budget has been reduced over the last decade to the tune of roughly $1 billion -- that’s fewer state dollars being invested in, and dedicated to, Michigan’s world-class, highly respected universities. Not surprisingly, the net effect of these cuts are higher tuition costs for students and families. At this point, college has simply been made unaffordable for many students. That’s not good for students who want to get ahead. It’s not good for our state’s job providers. And, it’s the wrong direction if we want to turn Michigan’s economy around and realize a future where Michigan is the place to be.

Consider this: This year, Michigan will spend 76 percent more general fund dollars on prisons than we will on universities. This investment strategy is upside down, if we want to attract business investment and good-paying jobs -- especially given that Michigan employers are crying out for better-trained workers and workers with college degrees. Right now. And in the years ahead.
Join us on May 7 at the Lansing Center in Lansing as we discuss these issues and strategies to strengthen Michigan by leveraging its higher education system.  

"The Leadership Summit: Growing a Higher Education Marketplace," a half-day conference, will feature an extraordinary group of state and national higher education, economic and business leaders and highlight national best practices that involve using higher education to drive the economy, including translating university research and innovation into jobs and creating a skilled and talented work force to meet current and future job demands. Other states are getting this right, and winning. Michigan can too, and must.
Businesses choose to locate where they find the talent they need. This conference is for you, if you want to know what it will take for Michigan to compete in the new knowledge-based industries and also for advanced manufacturing jobs. If Michigan wants a shot at competing for future industries, it has to produce the talent needed by enrolling the students we need in our universities.
Learn how our universities can play a vital role in acceleratingMichigan’s recovery by attending Business Leaders for Michigan’s "Leadership Summit: Growing a Higher Education Marketplace."

For more information or to register, visit

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Thu, 05/03/2012 - 9:39am
Sure would be interesting to see a comparison between what Michigan spends on higher education versus other states. Based on my experience, most of my friends' children are only finding jobs outside of Michigan. They are all college grads including doctors, engineers, and finance specialists looking for work not a change in location. If we were a desirable destination, we would be drawing graduates from other states to fill our needs. Maybe we need to enhance the image of Michigan as a place with a future, not the remnants of a rustbelt state that is ruled by the unions.
C. Skinner
Thu, 05/03/2012 - 10:50am
Cause and effect relationships related to education in Michigan are very complicated. I would contend that our prison spending is at least in part due to our educational falilures. Even some of our top school systems in the State do not even graduate students who are ready for college at a 50% rate according to recent Bridge statistics. And colleges are not producing engineers and other technical workers in anything close to the numbers needed to meet State business needs while producing far more teachers and lawyers than we need. I don't think the causes of these less than desireable statistics relate to money but rather relate to resistance to change in our educational system. The truth is that we are not preparing students in this State for the opportunities and challenges of our society whether it be at the high school or the college level. And in fact, there has been discussion and maybe even implementation of discriminatory tuition for engineering and other coursework for high demand fields which would only further discourage students from going into the very fields we need to encourage.
Scott Roelofs
Thu, 05/03/2012 - 3:19pm
The subject of higher education in Michigan and its costs is certainly complicated. And one can argue that too many students are in degree programs that industry/business doesn't need, and too few are in science and engineering. But the idea that the 3 companies can't find employees with the skills they are looking for seems to me to be rubbish. I lived in Midland for 30 years and worked at a Dow subsidiary as an engineer & manager. In the last few years Dow and Dow Corning gave retirement incentives to, and in many cases forced out, hundreds, if not thousands, of engineers, scientists, technicians and others around the US & world. A real treasure trove of experience & skill....gone. Now, with business returning, companies expect to replace that skill & experience in the form of new graduates? One does not have to be an HR expert to know it doesn't work that way. These companies have always hired fresh talent and developed them in their businesses and technologies over a period of years. I don't see why it should be different today. The experienced people are out there; it's just that now it will cost a lot to hire them (now that they are enjoying the life of retirement).
David Waymire
Thu, 05/03/2012 - 7:10pm
Scott: Here is a link to a story about Dow opening a major office with 400 young college grads in Chicago. They wouldn't be doing that if they thought they could find 400 smart young people ready to live in Midland...or even Metro Detroit, given that Metro Airport has plenty of connections and is easier to reach than O'Hare. Below is a very good place for state by state higher ed comparisons. One that leaps out at me: Once you factor in the 15 percent in state support for higher ed instituted last year (part of a 29 percent reduction over the last decade), Michigan is in the bottom 10 states in per resident support for higher ed. That's not how you create the kind of higher ed system that keeps the best and brightest here, and attracts the best and brightest to Michigan from around the world.
Thu, 05/03/2012 - 10:39pm
Mr. Rothwell seems to think that higher education is all we need, make it cheaper and the kids will go to school, with more kids in school the employer will come. I wonder if it matter to the employer what degrees the kids are earning. Mr. Roelofs mention Dow Chemical or Dow Corning, I wonder if they care whether the schools are teaching chemistry and the other sciences or whether it is liberal arts classess. It seems in Michigan that few an fewer kids see the need to graduate from high school let alone have interest in college. It seems the college have more interests in getting more students not in the type of degrees being offered. Is Michigan Tech expanding the engineering degrees it offers or is it expanding the non science degrees offered? Is CMU, EMU, SVSU, GVSU, expaninding their engineering programs, do they even offer such programs? It seems in my community the school districts are reducing the demand for teachers, are the colleges adjusting accordingly? Mr. Rothwell it maybe easier to write about and place blame on a broad topic such as higher education. But if manufacturing is what we can to grow, shouldn't there be some responsibility placed on the schools of higher learning to focus on those needs rather then simply trying to grow enrollment. The new Superintendent of our schools want to add another year and help the kids earn a college level associates degree, while the regular high school graduation rate hovers around 50%. That is great Mr. Rothwell gets what he wants more higher education, but I wonder if the kids currently graduation with honors have to take remidial classes when they go to college what will be the value of that high school 's 'college degrees'.
Glenn Mroz
Wed, 05/16/2012 - 6:28am
Michigan Tech is expanding its engineering as well as science programs.
Fri, 05/04/2012 - 3:02pm
Make no mistake college and universities are a business with their first goal to get the money, whether the degree is really worth anything is never their issue. The current mantra is college grads make more money, but if their degrees were really worth anything they'd know correlation does not prove causation and not all degrees are equal. And last a college grad who takes their degree and leaves the state doesn't do us a lick of good! If these issues aren't addressed this is another waste of time.
Mon, 05/07/2012 - 9:44am
Students chose majors, the colleges don't. Their job is to respond to the demand, their paying customers, i.e. their students. The solution to this problem is not to dictate majors to students. The solution is to spend less on prisons and more on higher education. We could probably half our prison budget and be safer in the long run. We don't make enough of a distinction between prisoners we fear and those we're just mad at; our sentencing is generally way to too long for criminals we're just mad at. We haven't developed alternative punishments, particularly at the local level. We push way too much of the corrections process to state government rather than dealing with criminals locally. We do a great job of teaching criminals how to be better criminals by putting them in networking situations (prisons and jails) where they teach each other the finer points of criminality, but fail to teach them anything useful for success in non-criminal enterprises. Our state parole system is a joke and virtually every local cop and judge knows this; our recidivism rate (about 2/3rds re-arrested within 3 years of release) is mindbogglingly. Our criminal justice system in Michigan is a complete mess and until this problem is fixed, there will be no extra cash for higher education. Our colleges are doing just fine; many of them are the best in the world. Leave them alone. They're not broke and don't need to be fixed. On the the other hand, our corrections system is a disaster and everything about it needs to be fixed.
Jeff Salisbury
Tue, 05/08/2012 - 8:23am
What do they have in common? Answer: because they all are challenged with finding enough people with the right skill-sets to fill the jobs they have available. It's the jobs of schools to prepare workers with general education and general skills. When workers require specialized training or individuated instruction, that's up to employers. But employers want others to pay for training their employees, and employers would rather have a large pool of candidates from which to choose. That way, employers also get to pay the workers less, citing the oversupply of candidates. This is an old scam that apparently is still working.